[White, Francis.] "A visit to the interior of south Formosa." The Cycle: A Political and Literary Review 17 (27 August 1870): 197-199.

[P. 197] Towards the end of January 1868, a friend and I made up our minds to take advantage of the then tolerably cool weather, and pay a visit to the interior of the island, our object being not so much to penetrate into the Sheng Fan country, as to see something of that occupied by the Shu Fan and Hakkas. En passant I may remark that the climate of South Formosa is too hot to allow of any excursions except during the winter months, when it is most enjoyable, being dry and bracing, and the sun not powerful enough [p. 198] to be annoying. Our preparations were soon completed, and accompanied by a train of coolies and our horse boys we started from Tai-wan-foo in high spirits at getting away from the dull routine of daily life at the port, and fully intent upon enjoying ourselves to the utmost. We took our ponies as we were told it was possible to ride nearly two-thirds of the way to our destination (the village of La-ku-li) situated on the bank of the river which runs through the centre of the island and which, there, is the boundary line between the Sheng and Shu Fan. For the first few miles after leaving Tai-wan-foo, the country was tame and uninteresting, but being in the sugar producing district where bullock carts are employed for transit, the roads were broad and good, and we made tolerable progress, arriving at about 3 in the afternoon at the small Chinese village of Wan-kia, consisting of some half dozen houses or huts, and a wretched squalid inn. Here despite our remonstrances the coolies decided upon remaining for the night, there being, so they asserted most lustily, no place of rest for several miles further on and the road an exceedingly bad one. Having no alternative we made the best of the matter, but it was very provoking to be within sight of the promised land and with nearly four hours of daylight before us, to be compelled to kick our heals in a commonplace Chinese hamlet. We explored round about to see if anything in the shape of a game was to be picked up, but found only a few pigeons, and so returned to our quarters, dined, and turned in at a very early hour, mentally resolving that our coolies should make up for the detention on the following day. Soon after daylight the next morning, we said farewell to our host (one of the most forbidding looking men even Formosa could produce) and almost immediately plunged into most beautiful scenery. The road, if such it might be called, being merely a narrow pathway winding between high, rocky cliffs covered with profuse vegetation, formed the ascent of a range of hills some five hundred feet high, on the other side of which we found ourselves in a broad, well cultivated plain, doted here and there with farmsteads. Crossing this, we commenced the ascent of a somewhat loftier range--the scenery gradually becoming wilder and more picturesque. Here we had frequently to dismount, the road in places running round the hills with sometimes a sheer descent of several hundred feet, and with hardly sufficient place to stand. Pushing on with occasional stoppages for rest and refreshment, we completed the ascent and descended into a plain similar to the one we had passed, but considerably larger. Here for the first time we encountered our prospective friends the Shu Fan. I think we were disappointed at finding them so much like the Chinese. They were certainly finer men, with a certain air of frankness and good nature which a Celestial seldom possesses, but the mixture of races was very evident, and if not critically examined they would have passed as Chinese. Further on, we struck upon the river, which winding round the base of the mountains flows through the plain in which La-ku-li is situated. Being the dry season, it was only represented by a narrow but rapid stream, strongly suggestive of trout, but as we advanced up the valley, the immense water-worn boulders scattered about, with other similar indications, plainly showed that in the south-west monsoon, when the heavy rains swell the mountain streams, the river assumes much grander proportions, and must at some places be more than half a mile wide. Late in the evening we reached our halting place, Sua-sam-la, a Shu Fan village, and were hospitably received by the chief, a venerable old gentleman, who gave us not only beds but bedrooms, had our tired animals cared for, and in fact placed his whole establishment at our service. The village was surrounded by a well-grown bamboo fence, and the houses which were comfortable, clean looking places, were each guarded in a similar manner. Most of them were built of bamboos and thatched, but one or two were well constructed brick houses with tiled roofs over thatch, an arrangement which keeps the interior perfectly cool and pleasant. The women showed not the slightest fear of us, and pursued their usual household duties as if no strangers had been near them, and after our dinner, and when a bottle of champagne had been distributed amongst them, a dance was got up in our honour. We noticed particularly the sweetness of their voices, and though the dance was simple enough, they merely joining their hands and advancing and retiring to a kind of rude chant, yet they carried themselves so well and moved so gracefully, the effect was very pleasing. We made an early move next day, leaving our ponies behind us (the work in front being nearly all stiff climbing) accompanied by one of the Sua-sam-la people who offered us his services as guide, which we gladly accepted. We remarked that every one here was well armed with matchlock, knife and hatchet, as a protection, we were told, against any sudden raids by an unfriendly Sheng Fan or the treacherous Hakkas, and the men working in the fields all had their arms within reach. Having shortly to cross a branch of the river and to pass through a Hakka settlement, we were called upon by our guide to get ready our guns and to make as effective a show as possible, as we might otherwise meet with annoyance--in other words, have our passage disputed. We got over however safely enough, but they are thievish, cut-throat lot when they see a safe opportunity. Every man’s hand is against these outcasts, and they hold their own with difficulty. A Sheng Fan considers two or three days' fasting and watching amply repaid if he can obtain the head of a Hakka, and they dare not go into the fields except in large numbers and prepared for an attack. Those we saw seemed from their dialect to be Cantonese. About noon we reached the foot of the mountains separating us from La-ku-li, a fine well wooded range, the height of which we estimated at about 3,000 feet above the level of the sea. Our guide was very useful to us here, as without his assistance we could never have found our way, which was up a dry water course, no other path existing. Until our arrival at the summit and during the greater part of our descent into La-ku-li, we were enveloped in dense shade which was most refreshing. The intense silence of the forest, broken only by an occasional falling stone displaced in our way up the course, was very striking, and we could not help feeling how perfectly helpless the best drilled body of troops in the world would be, if left to their own resources in such a country, and opposed by merely a few poorly armed savages. In some places we had to help ourselves along by means of the brushwood growing on either side, our guide, however, unencumbered by any superfluous clothing, went ahead with the same unwearied pace, as if fatigue or want of breath were quite unknown to him, and seemed quite amused when we were compelled at intervals to pull up and get a fresh lease of strength. We saw nothing of our destination until we were close upon it, as it is almost entirely hidden by trees from any one descending the hill. The river here, a fine rapid stream well stocked with fish, divides La-ku-li from the Sheng Fan opposite, who are fortunately well disposed towards their neighbours. We proceeded immediately on our arrival to the house of a Chinese who had married and settled there, who provided us with quarters and with whom we stayed during the whole of our visit being well treated and not squeezed. We were too tired to think of doing anything that afternoon, but several of the neighbouring hunters paid us a call, and a hunt was arranged for--the following day, when we were promised deer, wild boar, wild goat and small game ad libitum. These were fine strapping fellows, and when "got up" in their hunting dress looked exceedingly well. They all belong to the militia, but are never called out except on some great emergency. Their matchlocks, which were kept in excellent order, were fitted with a stock much like that of a European gun, and the barrels must have been constructed of good metal, the charge of powder alone being more than a hand's breadth. It is true they kick a good deal, but this appears to be no disadvantage, and they make very fair practice at a hundred yards, the target being a mark cut on the trunk of a moderate sized tree. We left early the next day for the hunting ground accompanied by our La-ku-li friends, and picking up our forces as we proceeded together with a most incongruous looking pack of curs. Hounds we could not call them, but they were well under control and did their work well enough. About an hour and a half's sharp walking towards the head of the valley up the bed of a stream, and clambering over stones of all shapes and sizes brought us into a lovely ravine where we halted, and the pack and beaters were sent forward, while we were each appointed a 'warm corner' where the game was expected to break cover. Here accompanied by some half dozen experienced hunters, we waited in breathless suspense, listening to the yelping of the dogs and the shouts of the beaters, but time passed by, and excepting one false alarm nothing happened. After an absence of about half an hour, the beaters returned with the pack to tell us that the game had broken the cordon and escaped. We tried elsewhere unsuccessfully, and finding the Fates unpropitious, we turned our heads homewards and hoped for better luck on the morrow. In the evening, dancing and singing were kept up with much spirit, our arrival having been apparently the signal for a general jubilee. After some pressing being doubtful of our own powers, we joined in both amusements, and hand in hand with the brawny savages, danced and sang till exhausted nature could no more, when we beat a retreat and retired thoroughly done up to our beds. Exchanges of tobacco took place frequently during the evening, the ladies being quite as proficient at the pipe as the sterner sex. None of them showed any of the impertinent obtrusive curiosity of the Chinaman, and when we were at our meals, which we took in the open "compound," they always retired till we had finished when they again joined us. Some of the women were very good looking, and they all had the same honest expression, and we felt we were among people we could trust. The women dressed their hair, which was black and luxuriant, very prettily. It was parted down the middle with a broad coronet plaited with different coloured silks in much the same fashion as was prevalent in Europe some fifteen years ago. Their tobacco was not at all to be despised, being mild and pleasant although rather wanted in flavour and deteriorating very rapidly. Money is not of much value to these simple minded people, everything they require being obtained by barter. The Hakkas supply them with firearms, gunpowder and agricultural implements, and in return receive skins, dried venison, horns and tobacco. During our stay a message was sent to the nearest Sheng Fan clan opposite, inviting them to come over and see us and barter with the villagers. An evil omen, so we were informed, detained them, and the messenger returned alone. Great preparations were made for the reception, a pig was to be slaughtered and large supplies of sam-shoo were already provided with which to moisten their exceedingly absorbent clay. They drink hard and are not particular as to the description of the liquor provided it is strong and fiery. As a preliminary to these drunken bouts, their arms are taken away from them. They are apt to get quarrelsome over their cups, and sometimes make awkward mistakes. Our last active day was the most profitably employed. Leaving soon after daylight accompanied by a large number [p. 199] of well armed hunters, we proceeded southwards along the bank of the river about fifteen miles, when we crossed over and found ourselves in savage territory. Between the bank and the mountains was a level space, some half a mile wide covered with long coarse grass reaching up to our middles; here, the greater part of us were placed in position forming a half circle facing inwards. The remainder with the dogs then ascended the hill side and commenced driving the game. One fine stag soon broke cover, and immediately feel victim to a well directed matchlock ball. We down below had only the satisfaction of hearing the shot and seeing the animal rolling stone dead down the hill. It proved to be a fine well grown beast, as much as two men could carry with some difficulty. After some further beating without success, we retired across the river, and it then being about 2 o'clock, we stared on our march home. We afterwards learnt that we had been hunting on hostile ground, and that it was only by a display of numbers headed by two Europeans, that we ourselves had not been in turn hunted by the savages, who in that part are unfriendly to the La-ku-li people. We regained our quarters late in the evening after a most fatiguing though pleasantly spent day, and had duly apportioned to us our share of the spoil--a haunch of exceedingly good venison. The following day found us too stiff and tired to commence our homeward journey, and we and our guns were equally idle. Next day we were more equal to the task, and promising ourselves another visit at no very distant period, said farewell to the friendly villagers, who pressed us to come and stay with them again, and promised us a hearty welcome and further sport. Some time after, I had an opportunity of again visiting La-ku-li when I met with the same kindness as on my former trip, and I left with my good opinion of the Shu Fan confirmed and strengthened.